Who will call defensive plays on the New England Patriots‘ coaching staff is one of the team’s questions going into the 2019 season. Brian Flores had that job last season, but left after the team’s Super Bowl LIII victory to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Flores was New England’s linebackers coach, but was viewed as the staff’s defensive coordinator because he took over play-calling duties after Matt Patricia became the Detroit Lions’ head coach following the 2017 season. Speculation was that Bill Belichick would call plays for his overhauled defensive staff, something he hasn’t done since 2010.
However, during the first two days of Patriots’ minicamp, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe noticed that one of the staff’s new defensive coaches was calling plays during practices. And he has plenty of experience leading a defense from his days on the field.
Jerod Mayo was added to the Patriots’ staff this offseason, hired to coach inside linebackers. Mayo, 33, played that position for eight seasons in New England and was a team captain for seven of those years. Making calls in the defensive huddle, he was essentially a coach on the field and earned Belichick’s trust. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Belichick would give a Mayo a shot at calling defensive plays as a coach.
Earlier this year, the plan was presumably for former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to fill that same position on the Patriots’ staff. Schiano hadn’t officially been given that title during his two months with New England, but that soon became a moot point when Schiano suddenly resigned in late March.
As Howe explains, Belichick and Mayo alternated calling plays during the team’s first set of practices. Belichick called plays with the starters, while Mayo made the calls with the reserves. During the last two practices, Mayo then took over.
Whether or not the plan is for Mayo to call defensive plays full-time will develop as the Patriots finish this minicamp and work toward training camp in July. Maybe this is an experiment to see if Mayo is comfortable in the role and shows a talent for making the right calls. Perhaps it’s a mentoring program.
It’s also possible that Belichick will rotate play-calling duties with one of the other defensive coaches. Bret Bielema is another new addition to the staff, coaching defensive line. He was a defensive coordinator for two seasons at Wisconsin, and shared that title at Kansas State before that. Yes, all of Bielema’s coaching experience is in college, but he spent last season as a consultant with the Patriots, getting a feel for the NFL game.
Or maybe Belichick is just exploring his options and playing with the possibilities. Even if one of the other coaches calls defensive plays, Belichick will have an active role with that part of the staff. As the Boston Globe‘s Ben Volin pointed out, the head coach often told Patricia and Flores when to call blitzes. It’s always been Bill Belichick’s defense in New England.